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Tina Casey headshot

Obama's Commerce Nominee Brings Fighter Jets, Mickey Mouse and Sustainability to the Table

In a move that could prove transformational (more on that later), President Obama has nominated John Bryson, founder of NRDC, for Secretary of Commerce. From a conventional business standpoint, this is a blue chip, Grade A, all-star, gold medal selection that should sail right through Congress. Bryson's business cred is impeccable. He currently serves on the Board of Directors of global aerospace leader Boeing and global entertainment leader The Walt Disney Company. He is also a senior advisor to the global investment leader Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. As if that isn't enough, Bryson was CEO of global power generating leader Edison International, the parent company of Southern California Edison. If anyone is qualified to guide the American business community to domestic strength and global competitiveness, this is It.

So, what does this mean for the CSR movement - and why do we get the funny feeling that this nomination is headed for rough seas?

Mainstreaming CSR to the Top

The aforementioned companies have not established the high profile leadership in corporate social responsibility that, say, Levi Strauss has carved out for itself. On the other hand, Bryson is not the kind of by-the-book nomination that seems to dominate the Obama administration's economic team. In fact, if you look a little deeper, this nomination is very much in the mold of President Obama's choice of GE captain Jeffrey Immelt to head the Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. In much the same way as GE has established itself as a leader and partner in the administration's push for electric vehicles and other new green tech, the Bryson appointment could help push sustainability concepts into the top echelons of business governance.

John Bryson and the Green Evolution

For starters, if you read to the very bottom of President Obama's announcement you'll see that John Bryson was a co-founder of the Natural Resources Defense Council back in 1970. Fast-forwarding to Edison, this company has established a leadership position in the transition to renewable energy, particularly in California. Disney has some heavy challenges regarding overseas manufacturing and related issues but it is making progress, particularly in energy. Among other CSR projects KKR has partnered with the Environmental Defense Fund to create a green portfolio. That's just for starters. Bryson is chairman of the board of the solar thermal company Brightsource, and he has co-chaired the Electric Drive Transportation Association and served on the U.N. Advisory Group on Energy and Climate Change, among other environmental organizations.

Boeing, National Defense and Sustainability

Things really get interesting when you get to  Boeing, which is a key link in the Department of Defense's supply chain. The company's labor issues have been making the news lately and this foundational aspect of CSR needs work, but it is progressing in clean tech, and it recently won a contract with NASA to develop next-generation low emission aircraft. That ties in neatly with DoD's environmental stewardship mission, which aims to push clean tech into the mainstream with huge investments in renewable energy and long term conservation projects like the Army's net zero goal. Put all this together and you've got an engine for change that fires on all pistons.

The Bryson Nomination and Congress

When you consider that Boeing's new NASA contract is in partnership with GE, the pieces start coming together. What the Obama administration is doing - Congress willing - is assembling a team that pushes the potential of new green tech into the highest levels of decision making in government and business. That throws a bit of a monkey wrench into a Congress that is pushing for less environmental regulation and more oil drilling, so round up the usual suspects - this nomination is anything but a sure thing.

Image: Department of Commerce by Steve Snodgrass on flickr.com.

Tina Casey headshotTina Casey

Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.

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